The Next Food Network Star

Great Food Truck Farce?

For the past six weeks we’ve watched Tyler Florence traveling the country with a culinary caravan to determine who has the best food truck business in what Food Network called the Great Food Truck Race.  Each week we have been amazed at how much better the Nom Nom Truck team was than everyone else in the “race.”  Five challenges, all won by Nom Nom.  Let’s face it, if this were an actual contest then it ended two weeks ago.

Camille Ford and the New Culinary Cuties on WannabeTVchef.comNom Nom has clearly demonstrated that of the seven food trucks in this “competition” they were far and away the best.  They have won every single challenge coming into the finale so if they didn’t win it can only lead to one conclusion.  The contest was rigged.  Period.

If the rules of your so-called contest mandate that you throw out everything leading up to this point then it was never a fair contest.  Phrases like “anything can happen” and “it all comes down to this” are indications that a contest of this sort may not be on the up and up.

The rules as established in the first episode stated simply that the team that sells the most, wins.  Nom Nom secured that title weeks ago.  In fact no one even came close in any of the challenges.  So for them not to win can only suggest one thing – this was no contest.

Food Network has had a history of contests where the math does not add up.  The most glaring head scratcher being season four of the Next Food Network Star where Aaron McCargo Jr. gave an atrocious performance in the second to last challenge yet the judges elected to change the rules to keep him in the contest and of course he won.  McCargo’s show, Big Daddy’s House, remains on the network despite never resonating with audiences while two other contestants from that season, Adam Gertler and Kelsey Nixon, have gone on to become much more popular than the show’s winner.  A third, Kevin Roberts, has been hosting BBQ Pit Masters on TLC and now on Planet Green; his show is watched by more people than Aaron’s.

Flat Iron BuildingTo have these teams drive from LA to New York, without actually ever racing their food trucks mind you, only to decide the winner by who can climb the stairs of the Flat Iron Building the fastest takes all credibility from this show.  It also means yet another black eye for the network when it comes to trusting their supposedly unscripted content.

The other truck, Grill ‘Em All Gourmet Burgers, needed help twice by winning some of the goofy “truck stop” challenges just to make it this far.  Then in day one of the NY competition they ripped the bumper off a parked BMW at a night club.  The cost of fixing that car should have come from their sales total.  Then when the last “truck stop” challenge was issued, Grill ‘Em All did not follow the directions to prepare the other truck’s specialty.  Instead of making a Banh Mi sandwich they went to a Vietnamese restaurant and bought everything pre-made and simply put it together.

The cameras were rolling for both of Grill ‘Em All’s infractions, why did they not do anything about it?  A show with integrity would have addressed these issues.  A show with no integrity would ignore them.  So what did producers of the Great Food Truck Race do?

Well, Nom Nom won the “truck stop” so that alleviated them from having to deal with Grill “Em All’s store-bought Bahn Mi I guess.  Still they cheated so the contest should have ended right there.  And the $1000 Beemer bumper?  Throughout the competition unanticipated costs always came out of a truck’s sales.  But not in this one isolated case.

I’m not the only person who doubts the outcome of the show either.  The LA Times did a story about it (HERE) and there is a new blog that has sprung up called What Happened to Nom Nom Truck? (HERE) that serves as a forum for conspiracy theorists that contains far more credible intel than you will ever find from 9/11 Truthers or Kennedy Assassination nut jobs.

To sum it up, this show’s integrity is in question.  It appears the entire thing was a publicity stunt, a ratings grabber but not an actual contest where the winner was the best contestant.  Though they had their moments, for the most part Grill ‘Em All was not very good throughout the race and they unquestionably cheated in the end.  All of that was caught on camera yet the producers ignored it.

I have wasted six weeks of my life watching something that claimed to be a contest only to discover what I believe was a scripted, fictional representation of what a contest like this might look like.  If they bother with a second season I certainly will not.

So, you watched it.  What do you think, fair or fixed?  Comment below.

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

Review: Aarti Party

Well it has been one week since fellow food blogger Aarti Sequeira was named The Next Food Network Star and now her show is premiering.  That’s not a lot of time, except when you consider that Aarti actually won months ago.  The poor dear has had to keep that bottled up inside so as not to ruin the show.  Next year when it is me Had it been me, I might have to sprint to the observation deck of the Empire State Building and scream it for the entire eastern seaboard to hear.  I mean it is truly a life changing event.

Aarti Sequeira Aarti PaartiBut now the dream has been fulfilled; it’s reality’s turn.  I brace myself for the first ever Aarti Paarti.

NEWS FLASH: Aarti Party has already been renewed for a second season.  Read more HERE.

Right off the bat it is clear the judges made the right choice.  While the other contestants were hoping for their own cooking show, Aarti was born for it.  She is so natural in front of the camera.  It is refreshing after enduring some past winners who, even years later, still are painful to watch.  Congratulations, judges, you have finally picked your second Next Food Network Star.

Watching the first episode the one thing I was struck by was that this is only the first episode.  The grace and energy of the host made this seem like a show that’s been on for years.  Aarti’s Indian spin on everyday American foods is just what was needed to introduce this amazing cuisine to the last country to give it a fair shake.  Sequeira pulled off the menu to her first show without ever mentioning the word that sends Americans running for the hills, Curry.

Here’s some of the new things that Aarti taught us in the first episode about Indian food – kale used instead of lettuce in a salad can be tossed in the dressing and stored in the frig without breaking down. . . for days.  And did you know that in India they have their own version of ice cream?  It’s called Kulfi and it is actually richer and denser than our ice cream.  The best part – no ice cream machine!  I have got to start experimenting with Kulfi.  With the exception of Guy’s Big Bite I have never had an NFNS winner compel me to try anything before.

Aarti Paarti kicks off the block of recent NFNS winners’ shows and after watching her it is startling how much smoother she is than last year’s winner Melissa D’Arabian whose show follows Aarti’s.  Melissa is pleasant and amiable but still seems like a home cook who won a cooking show in a contest while Aarti comes across as a seasoned pro.  If future episodes are as good as the first it will eclipse many of the tried-and-true franchises.

After several days of indecision the network has decided on a spelling for the name of the show.  It was originally Aarti Paarti then Aarti Party, then back, then back again.  It looks like Aarti Party is the final answer.  Episode 2 was even better than the premiere.  Gone was the nervous giggle that was the only negative about episode 1.  Two episodes in and she has still not mentioned the dreaded C-word, curry.  The next four episodes would have to be tragically bad to not justify a second season especially since they are still producing episodes of Big Daddy’s Kitchen.

In episode 3 Aarti made an Indian-inspired pulled pork sandwich with mango BBQ sauce, an amazing citrus/green apple cole slaw and a chocolate-ginger pudding pie. You can come out from under the bed, America, there’s still no Curry among the ingredients.  The menus through the first three episodes have demonstrated exactly why Food Network needed this show, because most people’s opinion of Indian cuisine are completely wrong.

Aarti is so polished and natural on camera that it is hard to believe she actually had to enter NFNS to get a show on Food Network.  It just shows you how out of touch Food Network is with what is happening on the Internet.  There are lots of web-based hosts that need to be added to the FN line-up to replace some of those interesting-for-a-second-dull-for-a-decade shows that bog down a lot of their programming. If given proper venue it is a certainty that most viewers would prefer Average Betty to Sandra Lee or Jaden Hair over Paula Deen.  They might even find room for a certain Wannabe TV Chef.

Aarti Paarti airs in the customary time slot reserved for the NFNS winner, Sunday 12/11 CT.  Right now this seems like a great time slot but in three weeks it will be up against the NFL where it will get hammered regardless of how good it may be.  If the show isn’t well received (like most NFNS winners) then they can hide it in this time slot until people forget about it.  If it does well (Guy’s Big Bite) it will move to a better time slot.  Even though the winner shoots six episodes they really only get three to prove themselves.

Aarti was nice enough to post recipes from the inaugural episode and here is one of them.  The rest are available at the Food Network web site.

Sloppy Bombay Joes

Sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 serrano chile, seeded and finely minced (save the other half for the turkey)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water

Turkey:
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Small handful shelled pistachios, about 1/4 cup
Small handful raisins, about 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 large white onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, finely diced
1/2 serrano chile, seeds intact (don’t chop it up unless you like things spicy!)
Kosher salt
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup half-and-half
Small handful chopped fresh cilantro (soft stems included)
4 to 6 hamburger buns

Begin by making the sauce: Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add the ginger, garlic and serrano pepper. Saute until the ginger and garlic brown a little. Add the garam masala and paprika and saute for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile for the turkey, in large skillet, warm 2 tablespoons of oil. When shimmering, add the pistachios and raisins. Cook until the raisins swell up and the pistachios toast slightly. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Return the pan to medium heat, add 1 to 2 more tablespoons of oil, and warm until shimmering. Add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 10 seconds, or until some of the sizzling subsides. Stir in the onions and bell pepper; saute until softened and starting to brown. Add the serrano pepper. Saute for another couple of minutes, seasoning with a little salt. Stir in the turkey, breaking up the big lumps. Cook until opaque, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, your sauce should be ready. Pour the sauce into the skillet with the turkey. Stir and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

Once the turkey is cooked and the sauce has thickened a little, remove the serrano pepper (unless you want to eat it whole, like my Dad does!). Add the honey, half-and-half, pistachios and raisins. Stir through and taste for seasoning. Before serving, garnish with fresh cilantro.

Toast the buns, fill with the turkey mixture and serve. Eat (with your hands!) and enjoy!

NEWS FLASH: Aarti Party has already been renewed for a second season.  Read more HERE.  Check back later this week for my exclusive interviews with runners-up Tom Pizzica and Herb Mesa.

Aarti made a beautiful and humble post to her blog, also called Aarti Paarti that gives a brief glimpse into her life the moment her victory was announced to the world.  Read it HERE.

So, those of you who watched the show, what did you think?  Leave your comments below.

Sloppy Bombay Joes

Past NFNS Finale Foul-ups

This Sunday night is the final of season six of the Next Food Network Star.  The finalist are Aarti, Herb and Tom but I’m guessing you already knew that.  The fact that the show has only produced one legitimate star in it’s first five tries has not stopped viewers from tuning in each week to follow the ups and downs of the contestants vying for the chance to be the second.  NFNS remains the number one rated show on the Food Network.

That is strange because of the history of, let’s say, questionable endings to some of the past seasons.  The first two seasons went OK, not much controversy but in season three the fireworks started.  Set the way back machine:

Season one was historical in a couple of ways.  It was the first such contest of it’s kind.  Second, the winners were a gay couple which, too, made it ground breaking.  Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh are bright and talented caterers from Chicago.  Their winning show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys, was not very entertaining but that wasn’t as important as the standards set by that first season.

Season two yielded the only Next Food Network Star winner to ever actually become a Food Network star, Guy Fieri.  And a star he has become.  Those TGIFriday’s commercials speak to the California culinarians mass appeal.  He has hosted Guy’s Big Bite, Guy Off the Hook, Ultimate Recipe Showdown and another show you may have heard of, Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives.

JAGSeason three is where things started getting – what’s the word? -oh, yeah, suspicious.  JAG would have won, should have won, but for the last minute revelation that he had exaggerated his resumé.  This resulted in an 11th hour return of recently booted Amy Finley who, given a second chance, ended up winning the contest (just like in a Hollywood script).

Why is this suspicious?  Having been through the NFNS process I know how thorough their background checks are.  Honestly, it’s easier to slip something past the FBI than it is The Food Network.  With that in mind the idea that FN hadn’t bothered to check the accuracy of resumés just doesn’t wash.  I do know this, the inncident was huge for the ratings.

Season four the shinannigans were even more outlandish.  A stand-up comedian who was so unfunny it was actually painful, a boorish elitest who described anyone who has ever eaten boxed macaroni and cheese as “white trash” and a chef who was scared of fish and stayed weeks too long because she was pretty and satisfied a missing demographic at TFN, Indian cuisine.

Next Food Network StarThere were two contestants who blew away the competition every single week.  Shane Lyons and Kelsey Nixon were both perfect packages, however the judges (Bob Tuschman in particular) kept harping on their youth.  It didn’t matter how well they performed, they were too young to take seriously.  That of course begs the question, why let them into the contest at all?  Nixon, by the way, won TFN’s fan poll on their own web site in a land slide and is to this day one of the most popular talents in the Food Network stables.

After eliminating the two best contestants, in successive weeks no less, we were left with the trio of Liza Garza, Aaron McCargo Jr. and Adam Gertler.  Garza arrived as a foppish diva with serious cooking chops who, more than anyone else on the show, listened to the judges and turned herself into exactly what they said they were looking for.  Gertler was good on camera but had limited culinary skills.  McCargo was a passable cook but was terrible on camera; still is.

In an episode designed to whittle it down to two contestants McCargo, who had been a model of mediocrity, bombed.  He bombed hard.  In fact, it was without a doubt the single worst performance in the history of the show.  Adam was okay and Garza blew the doors off the studio.  Easy choice right?  Boot the guy who bombed, right?  Nope, the judges decided to change the rules and bring all three back for the finale.  Aaron should have been gone but given a second chance brought home victory (just like in a Hollywood script).

Speaking of Lisa Garza she recently announced that she has signed a contract for her own cooking show.

Then there was the slip on the web site.  Apparently, some web geek accidentally revealed the outcome of the show days before the final episode was to premiere.  The web fiasco turned into a boon as fans who had tuned out because of the questionable antics (the elimination of Kelsey Nixon, especially) tuned back in to see if the web screw-up was a publicity stunt.

Season five was a little more tame with the exception of contestant Debbie Lee.  Considered by many to be the most vile and despicable person in the history of reality cooking shows, Lee cheated, back-stabbed and sabotaged herself all the way to the next-to-last episode. At least that’s how it appeared after a few days in the editing room anyway.  Melissa D’Arabian won and as her reward was given a TV show called $10 Dinners.  Which oddly enough was not the show concept that won her the NFNS title.  Coincidentally there was a national casting call back in 2008 for a cooking show called $10 Dinners that was surprisingly similar to the show D’Arabian now hosts.

So that brings us to season six and who knows what stunts, if any, Food Network has up it’s metaphorical sleeve.

Trust the Trend

Stuart Reb Donald on WannabeTVchef.comAt one time or another everyone of us has been caught up in a fad.  With great pride I went to school sporting striped suspenders studded with buttons.  I think the picture to the right demonstrates that copying Robin Williams’ cocaine influenced Ork-style was not my only fashion infraction.

That is in fact me, the Wannabe TV Chef in the size-too-small Subway shirt while rocking the mullet and porn stash.  Note that I am frying bologna in Parkay!

I share this with you to say that all of us have at one time tried on a fad only to years later have an embarrassing photo show up on Facebook.  That is because fashion trends are stupid.

Food trends on the other hand are not.  Food trends do not come from the mind of a “gifted” fashionista or spring forth from the THC clogged lymbic system of some modern day Holden Caulfield.  Food trends are the result of innovation – overcoming adversity by utilizing what you have available to you.

Remember when deep dish pizza, sun dried tomatoes and Buffalo wings were all the newest thing in food?  Food trends are rarely created by someone trying to revolutionize the culinary world but rather by someone trying not to starve to death.  Have you noticed that food trends may lose their status but the technique nearly always becomes part of the standard repertoire?  You cannot find parachute pants these days but egg rolls and nachos are everywhere.

A food trend is simply a regional technique or ingredient that works it’s way into the mainstream.  It was just a few years ago that flavored foams, panini and sous vide were cutting edge; now few are surprised to see them on a menu.  Foods are only trendy because they are new.  At one point or another everything we eat was a fad.  With that in mind why are Americans such sissies?

salmon on WannabeTVchef.comIn watching the current season of the Next Food Network Star I am startled by how many people are pulling against Aarti Sequeira because “no one likes Indian cuisine.”

Huh?  There are over a billion people in India that eat Indian food everyday, of course they just call it food.  Indian cuisine is the most popular ethnic food in the UK as well.  It’s as popular with the Brits as Mexican is here in the States.  For the record, had it not been for Europe’s lust for the flavors of India, Christopher Columbus might never have become the fifth person to discover the New World.

There is a reason that Food Network senior vice-president Bob Tuschman has been desperate to find the right host to do a show on Indian cuisine on the Network.  He knows, after years of doing his job very well, that with the right star behind it Indian cuisine will be the next hot trend in food; it will be the next sushi or Korean BBQ taco.  He knows that in ten years most people won’t remember Indian food as being exotic or bizarre.

Roasted Pork Belly on WannabeTVchef.comSo when you see that wild new item or flashy new cooking style on the menu try to remember that the chef would not serve it if it didn’t taste good.  That’s not the business they’re in – the tricking people into eating something nasty business.  The fast food industry has that all wrapped up.  So, please, try the roasted pork belly, try the heirloom tomato salad, try the fricking curried lamb.  Trust the trend.

Follow Stuart via “the Online”

Sip & Chew with Mike and Stu

Add to Google

addtomyyahoo4

Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

Archives

Subscribe to this blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

ISO 9000 Culinary Arts Certification